Dear John, Oh, how I hate to write.

It’s the classic breakup letter.  How would it look today for an engineering manager looking for a change after a long relationship with her phase-gate process?

Dear Phase-Gate, I hate to do this by email, but I can’t wait any longer.  We have to make some changes. 

It’s not you, it’s me.  You haven’t changed at all since we met, but my needs are different now. 

When we hooked up in the 90’s, my projects were a mess–requirements changing, schedules slipping, and expenses out of control.  Your project structure, thorough planning and gate reviews all seemed so right then.  Freezing plans before starting development seemed to eliminate mid-project changes and gave our managers predictable schedules and milestones to approve at gate meetings.

But in my world today, I need more space.  My most important opportunities are in innovative, fast-changing markets, where my engineers have to learn and adapt in the middle of a project.  What seemed like good management when we met is holding me back now.

The other day after a conference, I heard about Lean Product Development in the bar.  I admit I was interested, but the next morning I realized that Lean would be too big of a change for me. Ideas like “Principles of Flow” all seem too abstract for me to jump into right now.

Phase-Gate, I don’t want to start over and lose everything we’ve invested in our relationship.  Isn’t there a way you could change to accept mid-project learning and adaptation without punishing developers? 

I picked up a self help book by Preston Smith called “Flexible Product Development” with some great ideas about preparing for change instead of trying to eliminate it.  Would you be willing to read it?  We could stay together if you could learn to tolerate mid-project learning without a lot of disruption.

Do you think you could try some new ideas?

(The idea for this post came from a keynote speech by Jean Tabaka at the Mile High Agile conference.  She’s a great speaker; this video is worth a look.)

One Response to “Dear John, Oh, how I hate to write.”

  1. I’d be very pleased to think that some of the tools and approaches in Flexible Product Development might help more marriages to stay together.